Emotionally Volatile People:
“He can be so charming and then so defiant.”

"Out of the Rough" by Mimi Stuart © Live the Life you Desire

“Out of the Rough” by Mimi Stuart ©
Live the Life you Desire

People who swing from one extreme to the other, from being pleasant and charming one moment to being angry and defiant the next often lack emotional resilience and autonomy. They tend to fuse emotionally both positively and negatively to others, behaving wonderfully when they feel good, and blaming everyone around them when things are not going their way. Their sense of self reacts to external circumstances, and their behavior fluctuates according to their unstable sense of self.

There can be many reasons for emotional volatility, including genetic influences such as bipolar disorder, parental indulgence that contributes to a lack of impulse control, dietary imbalance, narcissism, or brain trauma from injury or drug use. Regardless of the contributing factors, when we understand how we might affect, trigger, or play into the relationship dynamic with a volatile person, we can learn how to stop having to suffer at the whims of the temperamental people in our lives.

Emotional Fusion

Swings in mood are exacerbated by emotional fusion. The emotional merging together of two people often results in excessive attachment, manipulation, and reactivity. When two people are emotionally fused, there is insufficient emotional separation for either person to maintain a grounded and empowered sense of self. As a result, emotionally-volatile people tend to swing from being hyper-accommodating to recalcitrant. Autonomy and intimacy get replaced by a sense of isolation and oppression.

Problems with Emotional Fusion

1. Repression and Anger

The reason volatile people swing from good to bad moods is that the only way they know how to be “good” is to be completely accommodating of other people’s needs and desires. The problem with being overly accommodating is that you repress your own conflicting needs, feelings and thoughts.

Such repressed feelings can manifest themselves in depression, sickness or addiction, or they erupt unexpectedly in anger or self-sabotaging behavior. The inability to calmly and firmly withstand the pressure to acquiesce to another person or tolerate another person’s disagreement or disapproval often leads to anger, belligerence and sdestructive behavior.

2. Weak Sense of Identity

Excessive emotional fusion creates an increasing dependence on others, which will often result in self-loathing. From infancy onward, human beings possess the instinctive drive to become capable and autonomous. It is not egotistic for a child to say, “Look at me! I can throw the ball, paint a picture, tie my shoes.…” It feels good to be able to do something on your own.

Yet it can be tempting to allow others to do things for you or tell you what to do. Such dependence seems to make life easier, but also creates deep-seated resentment. Thus, emotional fusion leads to cycles of attack and capitulation, which cause bitterness and a diminished sense of self. The underlying problem is that neither person can maintain his or her sense of identity in the presence of the other.

3. Subject to Peer Pressure

When you accommodate others in order to get validation, you become subject to peer pressure, that is, you behave in order to gain the immediate approval of your peers. This can easily lead to engaging in behavior that is harmful to yourself or others.

4. Diminishing Boundaries — Fusion

With increased fusion, boundaries between people dissolve, and anxiety becomes increasingly infectious. Undifferentiated people, that is, people who tend to fuse emotionally to others, mistakenly assume that they are responsible for another person’s wellbeing. The expectation that they must “make somebody happy” ironically increases pressure, anxiety, and disappointment for both parties. It does not generate happiness.

We can only placate someone temporarily. While we can be kind and considerate, we cannot ultimately provide wellbeing to another person without diminishing that person’s independence and exhausting ourselves in the process.

Altering your role in a fused relationship

1. Disengage: Don’t Manipulate

Control your own behavior but don’t try to control the other person’s behavior. It takes two to become emotionally fused. Stay calm even if the other person throws a temper tantrum, tries to manipulate you, or withdraws suddenly. Those strong emotional reactions only have power if you give them power.

You may have to pull back, limit the relationship, or discontinue the offerings you provide, but don’t do so in a dramatic way. Actions taken without emotional heat are much more effective than histrionics in the form of pleading, lecturing, or giving the cold shoulder.

It is imperative to stop participating in the drama of trying to control, manipulate, or unduly accommodate the other person. If you become emotionally separate, that is, if you remain caring without becoming overly reactive or tied into the other person’s emotional state, the other person will lose the intense desire to provoke an emotional reaction from you. There will be less of an urgent desire to either please you or to rebel against you. In other words, their reactivity — whether smoldering hatred or sweet manipulation — diminishes when there is no dramatic emotional effect, including cold indifference.

Analogy

Think of a toddler’s temper tantrum. When parents bribe, plead, or make threats, they actually encourage more tantrums. The toddler, who is just starting to develop a sense of self, thinks “Wow, this is cool. Look at the commotion I am causing! I have power!” Moreover, the parents’ anxiety expressed by their frantic attempts to calm the child shows the child that the world is not so safe. Why else would the parents be acting so anxiously?

For those who lack self-empowerment, such as a toddler or a dependent adult, having power over others provides a substitution for the feeling of power over one’s own life. But it is a poor substitution.

2. Stop Tip-toeing Around: Don’t be Compliant

Resist the temptation to become compliant in order to modify the other person’s mood and wellbeing. State your requests or potential consequences in a matter-of-fact way. We want to be considerate of others in our interactions. However, we do not want to compromise our own lives by endowing emotionally-volatile people with too much power over our own wellbeing.

By not allowing other people’s anxiety to infect us, we remain more emotionally separate and objective. Our disappointment in others diminishes as we accept and honor our individual selves. Even if only one person becomes less reactive, the relationship will improve. Moreover, it makes it easier for the other to eventually own, enjoy, and be responsible for his or her own decisions, moods, and conduct. It will ultimately give the other person the opportunity to develop a substantial sense of self and empowerment.

Often people get sucked into their child or spouse’s power trip because they feel guilty for not having been a “perfect” parent or spouse — as though there were such a thing. This is a mistake. Trying to make up for past errors and omissions by submitting to your partner’s emotional manipulation hurts everyone involved. On the other hand, being caring yet emotionally separate allows people the freedom to take responsibility for their own lives.

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

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31 thoughts on “Emotionally Volatile People:
“He can be so charming and then so defiant.”

  1. Traci

    Thank you, Alison!

    This article was very insightful and restores more of my hope. After years of diligent work, I recovered pieces of my self-esteem through therapy, education and practice. I even became a counselor. But soon after returning to an old flame from 25 years ago, I found myself returning to some old behaviors: depression, shutting down, losing interest in fun and joyful activities, general apathy, almost paralyzed inactivity – the ineffective coping I thought I had worked through and hadn’t experienced for over 12 years. Our relationship was full of highs, lows, and moodiness, for the entire 4-plus years. It took awhile, but I was able to disconnect. I’d like to examine my behavior and our relationship dynamics to grow even stronger. Especially since I had experienced such peace and joy for over a decade. Emotional fusion is a much clearer concept to grasp for what I’ve understood codependency and enmeshment to mean. I do have hope and am proud of myself for letting go of that relationship to better care for myself.

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Thank you for your comment. When you feel depressed, shutting down, losing interest in fun and joyful activities, etc, it is important that you retreat from the relationship, or separate emotionally, to get balance back into your life. I’m glad you found that out yourself, and will work on speaking up and/or continuing to do the things and see the people that bring joy to your life.

      Reply
  2. Rob

    Alison, first of all thank you so much for writing this article. I randomly stumbled across it after having an argument with my mother while I was searching for more information about the link between chronic pain and chronic anger. My mom has lived an extremely painful life to do some very unfortunate genetics and events. I was never close with my father but have always been very, very close with my mom as she raised me well and would do anything for me. However, her constant complaining and negative attitude has always taken a huge toll on me. When I was younger I would have violent outbursts and hit objects because I became so frustrated. Now, at 26, things like that do not happen but I still feel so terrible when I spend too much time with her. What caught my eye about this article was the concept of emotional fusion. It is a new concept to me but it perhaps explains my inability to be in real intimate relationships. Whenever I was in a relationship for an extended period of time I would lose all of my passions, desires, and goals in life, simply to make this person happy. It’s not something I do consciously but whenever I look back I see that is what was happening. I have completely given up on the idea of relationships, claiming “I lose all autonomy and all my passions because I become to attached to this other person happiness.” Now I am wondering if this is maybe something learned from my childhood. Sounds like emotional fusion, no? I was wondering what you thought and if you had any additional advice going forward into intimate relationships as it is something I crave yet am utterly and completely terrified to enter one again. Again, thank you so much for writing this article, I almost feel as if this concept can help me turn this bad habit around.

    One more quick note, people have always applauded me for my calm and cool attitude, yet when it comes to my mother, girlfriends, and even some of my closest(and most emotionally scarred friends) there is a bitter anger that is so out of my character that pokes its head out and I’ve always had trouble making heads or tails of it. I hope to hear from you!

    Sincerely, R

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      R,

      Thank you for your comment. Yes, it sounds very much like emotional fusion. When you’re a child and dependent on a parent, especially when there is only one primary parent taking care of you or close to you, you often learn to accommodate that person emotionally to be able to survive in the family. Accommodation can be in the form of trying to avoid their volatility or just simply trying to get them to take care of you in the way that you need. However, as you grow up as a child, adolescent, and young adult, it is natural and healthy to gain more and more independence in actions, decisions, and thinking. When you feel constrained or manipulated by that same parent whom you depend on and need (and maybe love) when you’re young, you experience great conflict inside, which can lead to outbursts, tantrums, or depression. There is a desire to please or accommodate (or a fear of disappointing) and simultaneously a drive toward independence and your own happiness. These drives should not conflict, but they might if the parent (or sensitive child) senses that independence in emotions, thoughts or actions, will disappoint or anger the parent.

      There is no ideal parent, but it makes things a lot easier when a parent is caring and kind, while allowing emotional and mental separation and freedom. When you are emotionally fused with your parent growing up, future relationships tend to become emotionally fused, which leads to a loss of passions, desires and goals. It’s fine to want your partner to be happy, but once it becomes your goal to make them happy, you fall into a no-win trap. You cannot make someone happy, and if that’s your goal, then your happiness and vitality become dependent on someone else’s happiness, which makes you resent the other person, and puts undue burden on them. The feeling that there is no way out leads to anger or depression.

      So, my advice for you is to start imagining the situations with your mother, previous girlfriends, and close friends where you have either resentfully caved into doing something you didn’t want to do, responded with anger, or felt a distinct loss of vitality, and then think of a new way you could have responded with that calm and cool attitude you have, while honoring your own desires and passions. That is, learn to speak up for yourself while still respecting the other person, but leaving it up to them how they will feel and respond. Let go of your desire to insure that the other person is happy and pleased with everything you do. You can be moderately considerate without becoming responsible for their emotions.

      It’s not good to dwell on the past. But by taking real examples, which tend to repeat themselves in different guises, you start practicing and preparing yourself for the next time the inevitable situations occur. It would be great if you could start thinking of the little examples where you start repressing yourself.

      For example, do you put up with ongoing complaints? Then practice a way to respond, e.g., “I’m so sorry you are unhappy. Let me know if there’s something specific I can do. But when you keep telling me how unhappy you are, it also brings me down, and it’s not helpful to either of us.” If the person gets angry, repeat yourself once, and then say, “I’m sorry you feel that way,” and leave.

      Do you give up doing things you love to do? Then find a way to do what is important to you. e.g., “Thanks for inviting me, but I would like to spend some time riding my bike/ alone time / seeing some old friends. It feeds my soul.”

      Do you focus too much on what the other person wants? Tune into that imbalance in yourself–neglecting your own needs and thinking too much about the other person’s needs. e.g., “Sorry you’re disappointed that I can’t help tonight. But you’ll be fine. I need to catch up on sleep/I want to practice the guitar/I need to chill.”

      Do you spend too much time together? Do you feel that you have to fix things when the other person is sad, frustrated, in pain? In this example, you could be kind and a little helpful, but resist your drive to make everything better. It’s all about tone of voice. Firm, kind, calm, no excuses or blame. Using words like, I wish/hope/want you to be happy/feel better/have a good evening,……but I need/would like/want to spend time alone/pursue this passion/connect with so and so…. If the other person gets mad or feels hurt when you explain your needs, then you may need to disengage a little more from that relationship, because that relationship will only work if you stifle your needs, and that’s no good!

      If you like, send me some examples of when you cave into your desire to make someone happy at the expense of your own vitality.

      Best, Alison

      Reply
  3. Alison

    I have an emotionally charged 18yo daughter. Her anger erupts unreasonably where she storms out of the room, teeth gritted and a temper tantrum that makes everyone around her hurt and wounded. There is no talking her down at the moment. She has to cool off on her own time. It’s very frustrating. She is chronically ill and is still on steroids which can cause this but I still believe that she has the ability to control her responses to even the smallest stimuli. i.e. A joke gone a little too far.
    Please tell me how to discuss this situation with her that will help her to learn to cope with her emotions and self control. I have no idea how to address this with her. If it’s not controlled now, there’s no way she’ll have success with relationships in the future.

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      That’s difficult. First, make an appointment to talk with her, so that she knows that what you have to say is important and serious. “I’d like to sit down and talk with you when you have time. We might need 15 minutes. When would be a good time for you.” Expect her to demand to know what you want to talk about. Just put her off kindly and say, let me know when you have time, it’s because I love and care for you.

      Then explain to her what your worries are. But start by saying something positive, then avoid exaggeration and “catastrophizing.” Keep it simply, neutral and caring. “Life is full is disappointments and frustrations. I have noticed lately that when you become frustrated or disappointed, you have big reactions. That worries me because it scares people away and makes the situation worse for everyone, particularly you. Perhaps it’s the steroids. Even so, I want to know what seems to be causing this from your point of view.”

      Then let her speak. Coax her to continue. Don’t interrupt or argue against her. Ask what you can do to help. Then suggest Cognitive Bahavioral Therapy to quickly give her the tools to deal with her frustrations and anger more effectively. It may feel more like helpful coaching than psychotherapy, which some people might find threatening. Assure her that you love her and that you are on her side. By the way, as you pointed out about steroids, many medication, diet, hormones, and lack of exercise and sleep can all greatly influence a person’s behavior and state of mind.

      If she is completely closed off to everything you say, then I would suggest that you get some help with how to deal with her, perhaps also through CBT, which can fairly quickly give you ideas on how to respond effectively to the dreaded situations.

      If she is very hostile in any attempted discussion, then write a letter, making sure you begin and end the letter stating that you love her and are on her side. Be careful not to attack her.

      Here are a couple of articles you might read before approaching her:

      1. https://www.sowhatireallymeant.com/2015/06/26/dealing-with-conflict-and-volatility-youre-being-irrational/

      2. https://www.sowhatireallymeant.com/video/dealing-with-angry-people/

      3. https://www.sowhatireallymeant.com/2011/12/07/giving-advice-%E2%80%9Cshe-never-listens-to-me-%E2%80%9D/

      Please let me know how it goes. Good luck.

      Alison

      Reply
    2. Alison Post author

      After thinking about this situation more, I do think there is a good chance that your 18 year old, still living at home, may feel a normal combination of fear of doing more interesting things on her own–college, friends, job, moving out– and yet a strong need to separate from her family, which is a normal need to become independent and capable. I would read that first article I sent you https://www.sowhatireallymeant.com/2011/11/17/%E2%80%9Cmy-teenager-is-selfish-and-rude-how-did-i-raise-a-child-like-this%E2%80%9D/ and then think about how as parents you could back off from engaging her too much (being intrusive), yet push her to go to college and or get a job, and become more capable and independent. When young adults feel capable, responsible, and get increasingly more freedom, they tend to do well.

      Good luck.

      Reply
  4. LaTonya

    My fiance becomes angry and verbally abusive when he drinks and does drugs…The very next day it’s as if nothing happened…and the cycle continues…I love him but can no longer deal with it..I don’t know what to do…I’ve never been in this situation before

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Dear L,

      I’m sorry to be so blunt, but I have to strongly recommend that you cancel your engagement. If he quits drinking and drugs for a long time (at least a year or two) and is never abusive again (not one single time), you could perhaps have another long engagement. But if you do that, I would recommend remaining completely independent financially, and that you wait several years before having children. This kind of behavior is very dangerous and damaging to your self-respect, and will only make it more difficult to leave as you feel worse and worse about yourself. It’s amazing that such behavior has already started before you get married. That may be fortunate for you, as you can still get out easily.

      Good luck.

      Alison

      Reply
  5. Alison Post author

    Hi,

    Yes, that makes sense and it’s a problem that is actually easier to deal with than if someone is always getting angry. My guess is that you’re easy going and not super demanding. People who don’t get angry often but then really lose their temper on those few occasions when they do get angry often need to learn to speak up EARLIER when they are merely irritated. They often value a calm and even-tempered disposition, which is wonderful in most circumstances. But as a result of their value system, they let small and then medium things slide. And then suddenly somebody does one last thing and there’s an eruption of pent up resentment that the person wasn’t even aware of.

    So it would be great to start noticing when you are a little annoyed and then find a nice or neutral way to speak up when someone’s rude or taking advantage of you or taking you for granted or not doing their fair share. You have to find a way to express yourself that makes the point without being apologetic and without being angry. You can even use humor. But you need to stand up for yourself earlier, which may feel awkward, but you can find a way to do it where you don’t feel like you’re being uptight, mean, or meek.

    If you want you could send me a couple of examples when you got very angry, no matter how silly or minor those examples are. It will be interesting to see what’s underlying those examples, for example, lack of respect, appreciation, etc.

    Here are a couple of my articles that might be helpful to read:

    Becoming more whole: Discovering and developing your disowned selves

    Displaced Anger:“All you think about is your career!”

    The Persona and the Shadow:“I’ve always been accommodating, but at times I find myself saying very mean things.”

    Watch Expressing Anger Effectively

    Best,

    Alison

    Reply
  6. Gabby

    I am the emotionally volatile person in my relationship that swings from one extreme to the other. I have always known that I have had issues with emotions and excessive anger but have always tried to control and manage it the best I could (tried antidepressants and counseling several times). It wasn’t until recently that I saw a psychiatrist that explained that I have a serious lack of impulse control which may be why none of my previous attempts at anger management and treatment have worked before. My boyfriend, of 7 years, is drained and is done with dealing with all of my tantrums, irritability, lack of control, and all the above. I have said many times previously, and truly in my heart meant, that I was going to change and the anger would get better, but it unfortunately never did. However now with this new “revelation” and diagnosis I believe I am on the true path to making it work. I am on different medication and am hoping that with it coupled with therapy I can truly fight the bad behavior cycle. Is there anything that I can say to him to help him understand my position and where I am coming from or is it too little too late? I don’t want him to feel like I am trying to manipulate him into giving my anger one more try because I can see how it would appear that way. I am completely discouraged that it has caused him such distress.

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      I am glad you are getting good help. Also cognitive behavioral therapy can be very effective for learning to control and transform emotional volatility. It will take work to develop new habits, but over time, you can definitely change.

      Regarding your boyfriend, I think this email is quite open and candid. You could write him a letter that explains your situation and more of your regret visa vi him as well as your appreciation for him. You could then suggest that while you are getting therapy and developing stronger impulse control that you see each other on shorter dates, and avoid living with him or spending a lot of time together, so that your time together is in short contained amounts of time, and then you can make sure you don’t become volatile. It is generally when people are around each other for long periods of time that the more temperamental person expresses irritability. Don’t give yourself that chance.

      I also suggest taking acting classes (or psycho-drama if you can find it) and/or listening to Dr. Marshal Rosenberg CDs on nonviolent communication. He teaches you how to express yourself without offending the other person. It’s important to be able to express yourself in a respectful and effective way when it’s important, rather than simply letting your thoughts and feelings go underground and smoulder until they explode. But you need to figure out which feelings and thoughts are reasonable and important to express, and then how you can translate them into effective, respectful language and tone of voice.

      Whether or not your boyfriend wants to try again, it is great that you are putting a lot of effort into this transformation.

      I looked at the article that inspired your comment and decided to edit it and post it again today. Thanks.

      Good luck.

      Alison

      Reply
  7. Terry

    She’s my world
    I’ve been dating an amazing woman for a year and 4months, I’m still married but been separated almost four years,due to a long divorce process, my girlfriend has been taking a lot of strain lately and has distanced herself from me in the last three weeks. And have been trying to win her back. I discuss how the divorce is going because I don’t want her to be left out of what is going on because don’t keep anything from her, but feel puts more emotional stress on her, she is on medication for depression and anxiety and don’t know where I’m going wrong and how to approach her at times

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      For one, try to avoid making someone who is depressed and anxious your world. She is too fragile for that much responsibility.

      Also, I would keep your divorce proceedings to yourself unless she asks something. Why is your divorce taking this long? Are you trying to be overly-accommodating to your ex-wife? What is going on that it is taking so long?

      You have been dating for 16 months. Can’t you ask her what has been going on over the last three weeks? It is very important in a relationship to be able to be candid with each other and to be able to hear her candid assessment of her feelings and thoughts about the relationship. You have to ask her in a non-pleading, non-threatening way, that is, in a matter of fact, neutral way. e.g. “I care a lot about you, and sense your retreating from me lately. I’d like to know what you’re thinking and feelings are, and what’s going on. Please be candid.” Then it is important to listen, to really listen, and not to be overly-reactive in some way, which might cause her to stop being open with you. Then let me know what she says.

      Good luck.

      Alison

      Reply
  8. Theresa Barnhart

    My sister has many times over our relationship used withdrawal to control what she is unhappy with.
    She has locked me out of her house while I have been visiting, screamed, refused to answer my calls, called me and hung up, taken off from restaurants on and on.
    Now, after 2 years of her not speaking she called me. Her daughter 30 died from cancer. For over 3 months I have been her support system over the phone. We live on opposite coasts.
    She is once again starting her manipulations, hanging up, yelling and withdrawl.
    I am due to visit and stay with her in a month. I have a bad feeling but feel unable to withdraw from this plan. I want to be a good sister but experience has taught me that she is likely to flip while I am there.
    I can’t seem to give myself permission to remove myself from this situation due to her grief. The last time she stopped talking to me was peaceful after the shock of it happening again.
    Should I just let this play out again and then be done? Or how can I get my head into giving myself permission to walk away. How do I do this?
    I have checked with other family members and it seems I am not alone. However, they seem to let it roll off their backs. Is that enabling or healthy behavior?
    I know that I am in control of me but I am having trouble figuring out my part and path.

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Hi T,

      I would not only give yourself permission to avoid being manipulated and screamed at, but I would make sure that you avoid such abuse. I’m so sorry for the loss of your sister’s child. Yet that is no reason to put up with horrible behavior and disrespect. It is bad for you and it is bad for her to have the opportunity to behave so poorly.

      Can you write her and say, “I would like to be there for you. Yet I don’t think it helps you for me to be with you, since I just seem to trigger your anger and unhappiness, which is what is happening on the phone. Please let me know how I can help you with your grief without simply aggravating you.”

      Find a way to be kind where you will not be abused. Imagine that you are your daughter or best friend. What would you advise your daughter or best friend? You really aren’t helping her if she is just freaking out when you are in her company. And it is not right or good for you or anyone who cares about you to put yourself through that.

      Please let me know what happens. All the best. I’m so sorry you are facing this difficult situation.

      Alison

      Reply
  9. Drew

    I have noticed I’m the giver and she is the taker in my relationship but what I don’t understand is why she is the giver in so many of her other relationships? Like the relationships she has with her kids and her friends she goes out of her way to do things for or gives so much attention to and totally neglects or ignores my needs or feelings. Is it because she cares more about them or that they are more important to her? I mean she says she loves me and wants to marry me, which I believe without a shadow of doubt. But how do I know thats really how she feels if she Can tell me but has such a hard time showing me? I have also confronted her on the subject numerous times and every time she acts like I’m just being an emotional baby.

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      It’s interesting that people can behave very differently with different types of people in their lives. As you describe your girlfriend, she may be more giving to her kids and other friends than to you. I don’t know if they are more important to her, or whether she simply feels very secure in her relationship with you, and therefore doesn’t feel as driven to make an effort. Are you generally home and there for her, or do you go do other things, see people, or pursue hobbies? If the former, then I would suggest you find a few interesting things to do–take a class, take up a sport, for instance. Your intent would not be to make her jealous. However, it would be interesting for you and it would make you more interesting to her. Desire requires distance and a bit of uncertainty in order to fire the imagination to long for someone.

      If she acts as though you are being an emotional baby, perhaps you are expressing yourself in too much of a needy way. It’s very important in relationships to sometimes express one’s needs (although not excessively). However, it’s best to do so in a self-empowered, self-confident and desirable way so that you entice the other person rather than whimper. Think of all the ways you could say, “I’d love to see you tonight.” Complaining, needy, or flirty and fun, or at least sincere but not weak.

      When discussing serious issues involving your needs and vulnerabilities, you can still maintain self-empowerment. Think of the ways in which you could say, “I missed you and I need a hug.” When someone is loving and vulnerable but not weak, that is much more attractive and effective than being needy and dependent.

      Good luck.

      Alison

      Reply
      1. Tammy Abdali

        “Desire requires distance and a bit of uncertainty in order to fire the imagination to long for someone.”

        I have read through your comments. I have read through your blog . Some of it is sound advice. And then I came across statements such as the above and suggestions to ?”not make a depressed person your world”.

        Reconsider how you direct these people who are reading your post. They are coming here from a sense of loss and your advice is not only irresponsible but it’s irresponsibly given. I can not understand how a person would believe a relationship is “healthy” when it has a “little bit of uncertainty”.

        Reply
        1. Alison Post author

          Hi. Thank you for your comment. Perhaps I should clarify the statement that you quoted. I don’t mean that desire requires uncertainty such as volatility or irresponsibility, but rather the uncertainty that comes from growth and transformation as an individual. Relationships that are too fused become stagnant and resentful, and desire perishes.

          I’m not sure where I suggested not making a depressed person your world. Would you point that out so that I could look at the context. In general I think you would not want to make one person your world, and particularly a depressed person. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t be caring and helpful toward that person. In fact, I think you can be more helpful when you do not make one person your world. If you let me know what you’re referring to in the last paragraph, I’d be happy to reconsider it or clarify it.

          Alison

          Reply
  10. Ivelosteverything

    My Mother emotionally and psychically abused me. This has lead to me, as I have just realised, being emotionally violent, and I guess narcissistic too, as I rarely, if ever, take responsibility or blame for ny failings. I deflect, and blame others, is never my fault, though most of the time it is.

    This has lead me to be, and this sounds stupid even typing it, being emotionally needy, as in, needing to be loved or wanted by a woman, and me wanting to please them by any means necessary.

    Then of course the emotional volatility shows is face and everything gets wrecked.

    I’ve lost my children because of this and my marriage to this.

    What the can I do to become a better person?

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Hello,

      I don’t have an easy answer for you. The important first step is becoming aware of your actions and behavior and their effect on others, and ultimately yourself as well. It looks like you are doing this.

      It is obviously not easy to have a calm, loving, and objective demeanor in emotional relationships when you’ve been brought up by an abusive parent. But it can be learned by a motivated person.

      I wouldn’t say you are a true narcissist, or you wouldn’t be wanting to become a better person. It makes sense that someone raised by an abusive parent would do and say anything in order to avoid blame. It’s a matter of self-preservation. The trick now is to see that blaming others all the time actually hurts you when you’re around normal or non-abusive people. So you need to learn to pause before reacting instinctively. Taking blame can be freeing. We are all human and make mistakes. It is exhausting to try to appear perfect all the time.

      A huge proportion of people can be needy in certain relationships. It can be wonderful to be loved. So this is nothing to be ashamed about. What’s important to realize is that acting on your neediness by becoming overly pleasing or volatile and controlling is ineffective. So we have to learn how to control our behavior to set the stage for mutually-loving relationships. (You might read my article on the Pleaser and the Receiver, which addresses the positive aspects of each and the negative aspects of overdoing either.

      Behavior cognitive therapy can be very effective in changing a person’s volatility. Also I think Voice Dialogue is very effective, and doesn’t take forever to feel and act more effectively. Of course, first and foremost, you need to like and respect the therapist.

      I also recommend writing a letter to your children and your ex-wife perhaps to try to give them some understanding of why you behaved the way you did, as well as to apologize. They may not respond well, but they will take note, and it will make you a better person.

      Good luck.

      Alison

      Reply
  11. Bridgebrain

    Interesting article. I’ve recently realized that I fit the description of emotionally volatile fairly well whenever I get close to anyone. I’ve taken some steps to try and improve my impulse control and develop a better/stronger sense of self (mostly meditation based), but in the interests of self improvement, is there anything in particular that you’d recommend?

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Great question. I would like to answer this in more depth soon. But quickly, perspective helps. Usually what makes you angry is thinking that the way someone is treating you is about you, when it is more about the other person. Also, once you practice “nonviolent communication”–staying calm, not becoming defensive, listening, and stating your own feelings and opinions without attacking the other person, you’ll find that your effectiveness with other people in difficult situations will increase so much that it becomes easier to resist the impulse to become volatile. Keep in mind that you will be much more self-empowered when you take into account your emotions, but stay in control in the way that you respond. Others will take you more seriously and respect you more as well. Also, it’s always fun to watch “Anger Management” for some humor and insight about the subject. Meditation is great. Also psycho drama is the most effective way to prepare for those situations that trigger you. You can practice with a friend, or even in your car or in front of the mirror how you would respond–choice of words, tone of voice–in different typical situations that tend to trigger you. There is nothing so helpful as to practice various scenarios ahead of time. more later. Let me know what works for you.

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